A pair of 7s playing some of their last handsSTUTTGART, Germany ―They are captains of the respective teams. Into their 30s, they’re still considered world-class midfielders. They are likely playing in their last World Cup tournaments.
And when they face off against each other in the quarterfinal match at midnight Saturday, one No. 7 will be a step closer to the ultimate prize, while the other No. 7 will fade into the background.
England’s captain David Beckham and Portugal’s leader Luis Figo, both wearing No. 7, will square off in their third head-to-head match on the international stage. Portugal had the edge in the previous meetings, and so Beckham and the English players will be out for revenge this time.
Both players have been instrumental in their teams’ drive to the final eight. Beckham’s free kick in the first game against Paraguay led to an own goal, which proved to be the winning marker, and his picture-perfect free kick against Ecuador in the second round was once again the only goal England needed.
But in the eyes of soccer-crazed English fans, Beckham still hasn’t played to his potential.
English media demanded he give up his captaincy after a lethargic game against Sweden, and head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has hinted that he would readily substitute for Beckham if he didn’t play well.
While Beckham deals with hard-to-please fans and media, Figo has for the most part been seen as a respected veteran giving his all in a last hurrah. Even during the second-round game against the Netherlands, when four people were ejected, Figo was credited with helping his team keep its cool in the 1-0 win.
When Figo received a yellow card for headbutting Dutch player Mark van Bommel after a hard foul on teammate Deco, it was seen as a stand-up move by the captain for his team.
So, the two midfielders will square off on the weekend with different spotlights on them.
The last time the two countries met on the global stage was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004. The teams played to a 2-2 draw through regulation and extra periods, and entered the shootout.
Beckham sailed his kick over the bar, and Portugal prevailed 6-5.
The first battle between the No. 7s was during Euro 2000. In their first round match, Portugal gave up two early goals, but scored three in a row to win 3-2. Beckham assisted on both England goals, but Figo launched the comeback effort with a 33-yard drive.
So how will the two fare in what could be their final showdown? It’s one of the fascinating storylines as the World Cup enters the quarterfinals stage.
by Choi Won-chang